Why Men Don’t Talk About Depression

Author: Joe Ferguson
June 14th, 2018

In a recent Menshealth.com article three men talk about their mental health issues while also touching on topics such as why men feel they aren’t supposed to talk about their mental health so they don’t seem “weak.”

“It feels heavy,” he says. “It literally makes my muscles and body feel weighted. I feel sluggish and low energy.

This quote from the article resonated with me because when I’m about to fall into a bout of depression, this is how I feel. I’ve come to notice the trigger and can often pull myself out of it, but not always. It’s an important realization for me to notice these types of triggers so I can actively avoid them as much as possible. My typical solution is to go out and visit a user group, go to lunch with friends, or go to a casual event to hang out. This gets me out of the house and exposed to the sunlight and other humans.

The two most important parts of the article:

Go to your doctor.

See a professional, get help. If a doctor makes you feel shameful for seeking help, find another doctor.

Find someone you can talk to

This doesn’t have to be a doctor or therapist. You have to make that decision for yourself. What works for me at the moment is talking to my best friend who doesn’t suffer from issues but wants to understand what I’m going through. The other person I can talk to is my wonderful wife. She puts up with me, so she is going to be the first to notice issues even when I don’t right away.

Find your people.

Read the full article

‘Depression Doesn't Discriminate’ - Dwayne Johnson Shares How Depression Has Affected Him

Author: Beth Tucker Long
June 12th, 2018

Depression has always affected the life of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Aside from his own battle, Johnson has also been affected by family members with depression. He was only 15 when he saved his mother from an attempted suicide on a highway. After sharing this story on Instagram earlier this year, Johnson has done a number of interviews where he opened up more about his struggles with depression.

"Regardless of who you are or what you do for a living or where you come from, it doesn't discriminate, we all kind of go through it. If I could share a little bit of it and if I could help somebody, I'm happy to do it." -- Dwayne Johnson

Johnson often turns to exercise when his depression hits, saying, “For me, the going to do something, it sounds boring and cliche, but it is what it is with me, I gotta hit the gym." Studies have shown being active can decrease a person's risk of depression by 19 percent, but recognizing depression is an important first step. “Took me a long time to realize it but the key is to not be afraid to open up. Especially us dudes have a tendency to keep it in. You’re not alone,” Johnson tweeted earlier this year.

Read more about Dwayne Johnson opening up about mental health in “The Rock on Depression: 'You've Got to Talk About It, and You're Not Alone'” in Men’s Health.

Pokémon Go: A New Kind of Therapy

Author: Beth Tucker Long
June 6th, 2018

Since Pokémon Go released in mid-2016, the game has exploded in popularity with reportedly more than 750 million downloads and an estimated user base of 30 to 45 million worldwide. Some may have expected the popularity based on the success of previous Pokémon games, but what was unexpected was the mental health benefits. People playing Pokémon Go have reported spending increased time with friends, making new friends, and increasing their physical activity levels.

Michael Van Ameringen, MD of McMaster noticed difficult to treat patients with severe social anxiety disorder and a lot of depression started to go out of their homes when they began playing Pokémon Go. “This led me to wondering if this game had the ability to be used as a mental health treatment, even though it wasn’t intended to do this," Van Ameringen said.

Others in the field agree. Kara Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, noted in 2016: "I see Pokémon Go being useful with my socially anxious and agoraphobic patients in two ways. It really gives them a set of tools and reasons to meet people. It is a naturally structured experiment where it draws people in to connect and is partially reinforcing, which is the best mechanism for rewarding behavior."

While long-term study is still needed, initial studies, like the one that Van Ameringen and colleagues presented at the 2018 American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting in New York City, show positive improvements. Combining video games and mental health therapy will be an exciting area of study in the coming years.

Visit MD Magazine’s site to learn more about Van Ameringen’s study.

Data Released for the 2017 OSMH Mental Health in Tech Survey

Author: Beth Tucker Long
May 24th, 2018

OSMH ran their large-scale survey on prevalence and attitudes towards mental health among tech workers again in 2017. The survey aims to measure attitudes towards mental health in the tech workplace and examine the frequency of mental health disorders among tech workers. At OSMH, we will be using this data to help drive our work in raising awareness and improving conditions for those with mental health disorders in the IT workplace. We hope others will be able to use this data to further improve mental health education, awareness, and accommodations. The results are available on Kaggle, a service for searching and analyzing public datasets. You can view the data or download a CSV of the results for your own analysis from https://www.kaggle.com/osmihelp/osmi-mental-health-in-tech-survey-2017.

The 2018 Mental Health in Tech Survey is now open. The survey is anonymous. Please take a moment to help OSMH and their work by filling out the survey: https://osmi.typeform.com/to/xztgPT

WordCamp Dayton 2018

Author: Joe Ferguson
May 22nd, 2018

WordCamps have been around for a long time and feature the best from the local WordPress communities. It’s quite easy to get started building a WordCamp event in your area due to the great support of of the WordCamp organizational community. 2018 was the fourth year for WordCamp in Dayton, Ohio. Dayton has a vibrant WordPress community with monthly meetup events for all aspects of WordPress whether you are interested in blogging, SEO, plugin development, or which plugins or hosting to use.

The Open Source Talk that Changed My Life Wasn't Technical - talk by Joe Ferguson

This was my first time attending — let alone speaking — at a WordCamp event. I gave the afternoon keynote, "The Open Source Talk that Changed My Life Wasn't Technical", which is my own story about how I found OSMH and became a volunteer. If you are familiar with PHP conferences, it is quite common that the event does not reimburse speakers for travel or lodging. This is one of the main reasons OSMH spends much of its fundraising money on covering expenses for speakers to go to events they would otherwise not be able to attend. I’m grateful to all the OSMH supporters for their donations that let us send speakers to events. Speaking at events like WordCamp Dayton is the cornerstone of how we can get our message out. We not only reach the local attendees and sponsors, but many times attendees take our message back to their companies and we get feedback about their companies being open to our message. It’s heartwarming to hear about companies taking our message to heart and that employees can feel comfortable discussing mental health with their colleagues.

We talk about 10x developers as being a fairy tale, but you take a developer with crippling depression, get them to the right treatment, and they will literally be 10x more productive. - quote from Greg Baugues

I feel like the talk went really well. I got a lot of good feedback immediately after the talk and a lot of great things were said on Twitter. Speaking of Twitter: I had the chance to meet two more people from Nexcess who were really awesome and took some great pictures during my keynote:

Joe Ferguson with Nexcess employee at WordCamp Dayton 2018

Thanks to everyone who attended WordCamp Dayton 2018. I appreciate all of the attendees who came to see my talk, and thank you to all of the organizers, volunteers, and sponsors of WordCamp Dayton for making this event possible. If you are interested in attending an OSMH talk or event, be sure to check out our OSMH Events Calendar.

How to Approach Everyday Loneliness

Author: Kelly Sartwell
May 14th, 2018

“If you want to heal your loneliness, you first have to learn how to heal yourself, be there for yourself, and cultivate your own garden of love, acceptance and understanding.'' - Thich Nhat Hanh

Pervasive loneliness can be disruptive to the mental and physical well-being of anyone. For many the feelings of disconnection remain close by despite the growing number of channels linking us to other people. Mounting research indicates how extensive the reach of inner isolation can be, generating a sense of urgency and warnings from former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who called the current climate an “epidemic of loneliness.” The Cut asked several mental health professionals for advice on practical ways one might relieve feelings of loneliness, resulting in a short but informative collection of tangible efforts we can make. Some suggestions offer fast or immediate efforts, such as conversations with people we encounter throughout our day or spending time with some fluffy four-legged friends. While other ideas are focused on intentionally taking the time to know and discover your true self. Survey the full list of valuable suggestions in the article, “7 Therapists on What to Do When You Feel Lonely”.

My Mental Health Experiences

Author: Mark Railton
May 8th, 2018

On April 14th, 2017, I did something I thought I’d never be able to do— I stood up in front of a lecture hall with about 50-60 people in it and talked openly about my own mental health issues. There are two main reasons why I thought this would never happen. First, I get extremely apprehensive about public speaking to the point where it’s almost debilitating. Second, I thought no one would want to hear what I had to say on mental health in the software industry, especially as I am not a doctor or mental health worker.

When I was younger, much younger, I used to take part in public speaking festivals, and I really enjoyed them. Over the years, however, things changed, and inhibitions started to set in as well as severe anxiety. What if I stumbled? What if I started just waffling? What if I completely froze up and just couldn’t go on any more? Looking back now, it’s easy to see that this was the beginning of the anxiety issues that would continue until this day.

When I was about 21, I started to suffer really badly with heartburn, to the point where I’d wake up in the middle of the night in absolute agony. I went to see my general practitioner, and he said he couldn’t find anything amiss. Even an endoscopy was inconclusive, but he put me on medication to suppress the production of stomach acid to see how things would go.

I told a close friend about the new medication a few days later. He asked me to go to the doctor and ask for a different medication, as he was worried the current medication would make things worse with my depression. I immediately got defensive and asked what he was talking about because I didn’t suffer from depression. Sure, I would get a little low every now and then, but I thought that was just normal and everyone was like that.

After that conversation, I started to look back on my life and noticed that maybe he was right, but depression was something that no one talked about. I thought that if there were something there, my doctor would have caught it. Within a couple of years, I noticed I was having more and more depressive ‘episodes’ but still didn’t feel I could do anything about them. I felt that antidepressants were for other people.

When I was living abroad with my wife in Abu Dhabi, I was initially out of work, and I struggled, hard. I’m not an idle person. I can’t just sit around and live a life of luxury. This really started to play on me. After 3 months, I took a job in the local church working as an administrator, and while this wasn’t what I really wanted to be doing, it gave me purpose. A year later, I left that job as our first child was born, and I needed to stay home to look after him. Again, I struggled really hard being at home all the time.

Around this time, my closest friend from back home got in touch with me saying that he’d been to see the doctor. The doctor had diagnosed him with depression and immediately put him on anti-depressants. Towards the end of the call, my friend said that he wanted me to also go see a doctor because he’d seen all of his symptoms in me and was worried. I initially thought that he was just projecting his diagnosis onto me. After all, we were extremely close, but he persisted.

A few days later, I relented and went to see a doctor. I was very skeptical initially, and when the doctor mentioned that he recognized me from church, I almost lost it. I started explaining the conversations I’d had with my friend and how he thought that I was also suffering. The doctor quickly said that he agreed that I was suffering from depression and advised starting straight away on anti-depressants.

Once I got started on medication, things started to look up. I secured a remote job that got me back into the tech field doing support and eventually lead to me taking a role as a web developer - which helped get me where I am today. Medication, however, is not always the silver bullet people make it out to be. When I started on anti-depressants, I had friends who knew about my mental health issues say things like, “Did you forget to take your happy pills today?” It took me about a year or so to start to get a handle on my triggers and learn how to help myself. It’s not just all about medication, it’s also about looking after yourself.

When we moved back to Ireland in 2015, I was unaware of how prevalent mental health issues are in the tech community. It wasn’t until I attended PHP North West that year and sat in on a talk by Mike Bell where he talked about his own struggles with mental health that I realized that it was a much bigger issue. Around the same time, I started to hear of Ed Finkler and the organization he was putting together called OSMH. At the start of 2017, I became acutely aware that the message OSMH was working to spread needed to be brought to Ireland. We’re a small country with a fairly large tech community, and I knew that if I was suffering, there had to be others that were suffering as well. I reached out to Ed Finkler and asked about possibly partnering to try and bring the OSMH message to Ireland. I was immediately welcomed in as a volunteer.

In October 2017, I gave my first ever talk to a user group titled “Looking after your mental health, a guide for software developers”, which was the precursor to the recent talk I gave at PHP Yorkshire with the same title. That night, I had friends from PHP Dublin come up to me and thank me for being so honest and for having the courage to share the message I did. Personally, I don’t really see what I did as being courageous, I see it as performing a public service. I am eternally thankful to the staff and fellow volunteers at OSMH for the help that I’ve received, even in small ways, like the encouragement I received when I was initially struggling to come up with the talk I gave.

Mental health issues affect a staggeringly high number of people in the software community, but together, we can help to overcome the stigma. Stop by https://osmhhelp.org/resources, and let’s get started!

Getting Back to the Things that Make Us Happy

Author: Beth Tucker Long
May 4th, 2018

Our culture has moved away from many of the things our species has traditionally been known for—things like being outside, living in tight-knit communities, being physically active, and having downtime alone with our thoughts. In fact, a study from the University of Virginia in collaboration with Harvard found a surprising number of people who had previously said they would pay money to avoid being electrically shocked would then voluntarily shock themselves instead of sitting quietly and thinking when forced to be alone in a room (with nothing else to do) for only 6 to 15 minutes.

Research is showing depression is on the rise. Could it be from the lack of these things in our lives? Forbes contributor, Alice G. Walton, has published a list of simple things we can do to get back to our traditional ways in an effort to improve our state of mind. You can read her thoughts in 8 Things We're Doing Wrong For Our Mental Health (And How We Can Do Better).

Digital Self-harm in Adolescents

Author: Beth Tucker Long
May 2nd, 2018

With social media firmly embedded in our daily lives, there is a new form of self-harm emerging amongst adolescents: digital self-harm. This includes posting cruel or hurtful comments anonymously on their own social media posts and accounts. NPR recently posted an article discussing some recent studies of teen mental health and bullying. Of the teens studied who reported engaging in digital self-harm, some say they do this to decrease the harmful comments they may receive from others, to prove they are tough, or to get attention from friends or adults. Others said it was a way to see if someone is really their friend.

"Because teens' online and offline worlds overlap, digital self-harm is a concern for some youth, making online self-harm an emerging area of research," says Susan Swearer, a professor of psychology at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, who also studies bullying.

With studies showing that self-harm is on the rise in certain groups of teens, this is something to keep an eye on. Learn more by reading NPR’s article, “When Teens Cyberbully Themselves”.

Heartifacts - Day 2

Author: Jenna Quindica
April 23rd, 2018

We had a busy last day at #Heartifacts, a conference to facilitate conversations about mental health, communication techniques, and community involvement. We had six talks and a cognitive distortion workshop to fit into a 7-hour day. Let’s jump into it.

We said, “Good morning” to Olivia Liddell at the beginning of her talk, “Overcoming Your Fear of Failure”. Olivia’s message rings true for me, especially as I write this blog. What if this blog post is boring? Olivia, a former public school teacher, taught us how to recognize and overcome our fear of failure. What is a fear of failure?

  • Feeling inadequate
  • Imposter syndrome
  • Procrastination
  • Self-sabotage
  • Reluctance to try new things

If someone is experiencing a combination of the above, the person may be experiencing a fear of failure. Another way to recognize a fear of failure is with the three P’s:

  • Perfectionism
  • Procrastination
  • Paralysis

Fear of failure shouldn’t keep us from doing what we know we can do. Here’s Olivia’s list on how to overcome fear of failure:

  1. Identify your current strengths - and also begin to develop new ones.
  2. Build and rely on a support network.
  3. Redefine failure and learn from it.

Steve Jobs said, “Let’s go invent tomorrow, rather than worrying about what happened yesterday.” Don’t throw away your shot.

Our second talk of the day was about “Burnout and the Cult of Busy”. Our speaker was Caroline Moore. Self-care is essential for everything, and it’s non-negotiable if you’re managing a health problem. Unfortunately, we’re obsessed with being busy, and we live in a world that facilitates it. There used to be an easy physical barrier called an office, but now there’s Slack, SMS, etc. There’s no such thing as, “Oh, I missed your call.” Leisure is not seen as a necessity of humanity, but most achievements have come from downtime. Put your eyeballs on something else for five minutes and then come back to it. Working long hours and always being accessible aren’t necessary to succeed. Take care of yourself. Talk about your burnout, and tell people you have a problem. Set boundaries at work. Stop feeling guilty. When you state your needs, it encourages other people to do so too. Give yourself permission to be done with tasks, so you don’t feel guilty about clocking out.

Closing out the morning, Zachary Zlotnik spoke about “The Mental Impact of Tech Interviews”. Coding interviews are not accurate, objective, predictive, unbiased, or consistent. Many companies don’t have formal training requirements for employees to become interviewers, and technical ability takes precedence over everything else. Companies end up hiring and retaining “brilliant jerks”, but technical skills are often the most teachable. Coding interviews can lead to imposter syndrome in candidates or even burnout. Which is worse? Going through a toxic interview process or staying at a company? 70% of millennials have experienced imposter syndrome in one form or another. Coding interviews should do no harm. How do we fix things?

  • Admit the system is broken.
  • Emphasize unconscious bias awareness and empathy.
  • Incentivize interviewing.
  • Anonymously test new evaluation techniques on current employees.
  • Take-home coding assessments should have sensible limits for scope, complexity, time, and deadlines. Don’t let the take-home test take more than two hours to complete.
  • Ask your candidate to do a code review.
  • No live coding from scratch. Give someone something to improve, perhaps the code in the code review.
  • Interviews should be structured and graded with a rubric.
  • Limit the number of interviews.
  • Raise the soft skills bar.
  • Communicate decisions promptly, diplomatically, and professionally.
  • Be respectful.
  • Ghosting is unacceptable with modern-day applicant tracking systems.
  • Collect and monitor interview metrics and statistics.

Beginning the afternoon, Aly Fulton told us about “MomOps and Feelings”. Aly’s story was very personal, and she gave advice for each role in the workforce on how to help parents transition into and out of birthing children:

  • Moms/birthing parents
    • Secure childcare ASAP.
    • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
    • Take care of both your mental and physical health.
  • Partners
    • Advocate for paid parental leave at your job and take it.
    • Support your partner in any way.
    • Know the signs of postpartum disorders.
  • Employers
    • Help make a supportive environment for new parents.
    • Know that new parents aren’t cookie cutters and those needs will vary.
    • Implement generous paid leave.
  • Employers/managers
    • Support lactation (“pumping”) needs.
    • Minimize travel or add additional support for traveling parents.
    • Utilize a re-onboarding process. The work environment will change while parents are on leave. Returning parents need to be reoriented.
  • Employees/colleagues
    • Offer support or just listen.
    • Don’t push your parental advice on others.
    • Advocate for parental leave.
  • Conference organizers
    • Select a talk on parenthood and tech from time-to-time.
    • Provide lactation rooms.
    • Offer quality childcare.
    • Offer low-key events or a family track.
  • And more! This list is not exhaustive.

Self-care is often the last thing on a birthing parent’s mind, but it’s important to pause and do something just for oneself. As we learn on airplanes, secure your oxygen mask before securing others’.

Next up was a cognitive distortions workshop. It started with a brief intro of the brain. We were reminded that our feelings are happening in our brains and that our brains convert that information into action. I chuckled at this software-hardware metaphor: The type of language, like English or Spanish, is akin to software, whereas the construct of language itself is akin to hardware. Brains are lazy since they just want to be fed, kept warm, and protected. Beliefs are lenses through which we see the world. At the end of the workshop, we went through two handouts: One lists all the cognitive distortions while the other is a Trial-Based Cognitive Therapy (TBCT) Intrapersonal Thought Record (IntraTR).

Aaron Aldrich’s talk was also very personal as he talked about “Continuous (Self) Improvement: Dealing with ADHD”. We learned that ADHD is often comorbid, usually with depression and anxiety. Getting diagnosed sometimes gives context on behavior. People may experience “Ah ha!” moments: “That behavior isn’t normal, but is characteristic of a disorder!” Aaron found having the diagnosis of ADHD helpful. He told us about “MVP: No-zero days”: days where one just gets out of bed, showers, and brushes teeth, and these days are 100% OK. Living with ADHD means continuous improvement, because this is not a journey with an end.

To end the conference, Tori Brenneison taught us about “Shine Theory 101: The Devastating Importance of Lifting Up Others to Lift Up Ourselves”. First, what is shine theory? It’s the radical notion that other people’s success does not mean your failure. This phrase was originally coined by Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow of the podcast “Call Your Girlfriend”. We live in a culture of competition where everything has become a contest. Ann Friedman said, “Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better.” We learned how to deal with resentment:

  • Short-term
    • When you’re feeling resentment, accept it in the moment.
    • Calm down, and take a walk. Count ceiling tiles. Breathe slowly.
    • Dwelling in a vortex of negativity is a terrible place, so avoid it.
    • Practice compassion. (Tori’s least favorite tip because it’s the hardest.)
  • Long-term
    • Vent frustrations (carefully).
    • Practice letting go.
    • Own your resentment by setting aside a time to be alone and think about why you’re feeling resentful. Take responsibility for your actions.

We also learned how to make friends:

  • Tap into existing social networks.
  • Don’t (just) follow your passions. Branch out.
  • People can tell when you’re not being authentic.
  • Don’t use people. That’s terrible behavior.
  • Don’t talk down about yourself to your new friends.
  • “Fake it ‘til you make it” does not apply to new friends.
  • Intentionality is key.

According to science, you should get in touch with your friends at least once every 15 days. Worry about what you’re doing instead of constantly comparing yourself to everyone else because opportunities only come to people who pursue them.

These talks comprised the last day of Heartifacts, and I’m sorrowful to leave Pittsburgh. Conferences like Heartifacts don’t happen often, and we should cherish these experiences when they do. I believe every talk discussed “feelings” in some way, and I am having some feels about this. In August 2019, Code and Supply will be putting on Abstractions, a technical conference that hopes to bring together everyone involved in the software development life cycle, from designers to developers to DevOps engineers to community leaders.